Skills development for employability (TVET) in higher education: Issues and challenges

Rupert MACLEAN, Margarita PAVLOVA

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Historically, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education (HE) emerged from opposing traditions, with the universities providing academic knowledge and TVET providing skills for employability. Mass and elite HE and vocational institutions have developed complex relationships in many countries. Even European Union capitalist countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom have different approaches to HE and TVET. With the trend of the massification of HE, universities are increasingly moving away from the tradition of mainly producing and transmitting academic knowledge and are putting emphasis on skills development for employability. This has resulted in a move towards the vocationalization of HE and the bridging of academic and vocational learning. In this article, Luhmann’s theory of society is used to consider the relationships between TVET and HE. These can be analysed in terms of a self-organizing (autopoietic) system that was developed by Luhmann in 1984. In accordance with this theory, satisfaction of industry’s needs through the development of personal skills by means of university training would be harmonized through the function of stabilization in the time dimension. The dynamics of this are developed through communication. Luhmann (1984, Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp (Translated version printed in 1995)) specified that the relations between the social communication system and what he called ‘individual consciousness systems’ (i.e. actors) are ‘structurally coupled’: the social communication system cannot operate without individuals who communicate, but only the message (i.e. the action) and not the actor is communicated. The action will thus have different meanings for the sending actor, for the receiving actor and for the social communication system, since they are different systems of reference. The social system has its own dynamics and gradually universities could be harmonized with the market economy. This article refers to the current discourses on vocation and HE relationships that can be viewed on four levels – political, economic, epistemological and human development. Copyright © 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-330
JournalJournal of Asian Public Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


Maclean, R., & Pavlova, M. (2011). Skills development for employability (TVET) in higher education: Issues and challenges. Journal of Asian Public Policy, 4(3), 321-330.


  • TVET
  • Vocationalization
  • Massification
  • Higher education
  • Lifelong learning
  • Autopoietic system


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